A funny thing happened to the game dubbed as the Final Showdown between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning: the Denver Broncos defense dominated.
Denver Broncos 20 (14-4)
New England Patriots 18 (13-5)
AFC Championship, Final Game Box Score
Sports Authority Field At Mile High, Denver, CO
By Robby Sabo
During the late stages of the AFC Championship Game featuring Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos and Tom Brady’s New England Patriots, minds and hearts raced across this great land of ours.
The absurd drama on hand had the likes of Vince McMahon blushing. Nobody could script such a game, such an ending.
Facing the odds all afternoon – taking hit after hit – Brady lived on the edge time and again in throwing the ball away on pressured plays and finding an open man on able ones. With Denver leading by eight points and two minutes to go, Brady did the impossible, but something we all thought would happen.
He hit Rob Gronkowski in the end-zone on their second-consecutive successful fourth-down conversion.
— NFL (@NFL) January 24, 2016
Offensive pass interference or not, only a two-point conversion remained between a Broncos victory or overtime.
This is where the story of the afternoon put their exclamation point on things.
— NFL (@NFL) January 24, 2016
No. 12 was once again pressured. A four-man Wade Phillips pressure did enough to force Brady into the middle of the field on a double-covered Julian Edelman.
While Bradley Roby was the fortunate Bronco to pick the pass off, it was this unit who officially stole the show. The unit who finished No. 1 in all the league by only allowing 283.1 yards per game, allowed this contest to be a throwback defensive battle of days past.
Phillips had the gameplan right from the get-go. Not blitzing too much, yet generating a nice four-man pass rush on Brady was working right from the start. Though he was only sacked three times in the game, he was rushed or hurried a tremendous amount.
It seemed as though, finally, this very average New England offensive line was crumbling.
Von Miller was everywhere (5 sacks, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT). He even threw in a “cry-baby” dance for Mr. Brady:
Von Miller celebrates a sack by mimicking a crying baby. pic.twitter.com/Z9X8FsHPRY
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 24, 2016
Aside from having the personnel to get to Brady, Phillips did the other right thing you must do. He dared Brady to beat them over the top. He simply couldn’t.
If Edelman or Amendola went deep along the sidelines, the Broncos would stay with single-coverage. He knew those shorter receivers wouldn’t beat a single. The safeties instead played in robber positions all game long.
They focused on Gronkowski, Edelman over the middle, and James White out of the backfield all afternoon. They literally shut down the famous Brady “dink and dunk” short-timing offense.
Coverage was so good that we saw every defender play the same approach on most plays. They sat underneath and trailed their man – almost acting like the deep route wasn’t going to occur.
Brady finished just 27-of-56 for a TD and 2 INTs. In a league that promotes offense to such a level a guy like Brady can operate without a running game or a deep passing threat, the Broncos defense did exactly what it needed to.
In a day where 4,000 yard quarterbacks are commonplace, and Brady’s legendary status is undoubted, Peyton Manning now joins John Elway as welcoming that much wanted and deserved “help.”
Manning finally has a defense, and it dominated today.